Most Important Consideration When Teaching Greek

Here is my fundamental philosophy when it comes to teaching first year Greek. It can apply to lots of other things as well, but this is most readily apparent when studying subjects that take a long time to master. And is there any better example than Greek of this?

So here it is. Here’s what you need to keep in mind when you lead a group of students through a course of study in Greek. The most significant thing for their success, by a very huge margin, is their desire to learn the language. It’s that simple.

You can put a really horrible Greek textbook in front of their face and they can learn a lot of Greek if they want it bad enough. Sure, they would learn better with a really good textbook. No one would deny that. But if the textbook at least conveys the basics, a person can make it through and go on to learn how to translate by the sheer force of their determination. This is something I learned working through my first year Hebrew textbook. At the time it was the worst foreign language textbook I had ever read, and is second now only to one for Khmer that I have. Despite that book, I made it through first year with enough Hebrew to intelligently handle some of my later Hebrew classwork (though I could have been better off!).

You can be a really horrible teacher, and if they want it bad enough, they will learn the language despite your inability. This was true of me in one of my classes as well. But despite the teacher’s complete lack of sense when it comes to teaching a language course, I still made it through (this was made much easier because the first semester teacher was super excellent, but it was still a hard semester). Obviously, if you are a teacher, you want to be capable. But, if they want it bad enough, they’ll learn it despite your mistakes.

The student can even have a low degree of intelligence. I think that there are very few people who just couldn’t learn the language. Brilliant people will learn it faster than less gifted people, but the average or below average of intelligence can succeed and exceed in language learning if they want it bad enough. Brilliance is very helpful, but not necessary.

What this tells me is that if I want my students to learn, I need to do whatever I can to make the material interesting, to make it as enjoyable as possible. Of course, I’ll try to create a good text/use a good text and be a good teacher. But much of those two things will be focused on increasing the student’s desire to learn the language.

One thing I’m doing to help with this is following an approach similar to Athenaze. Every chapter begins with translation, and I introduce the ideas in the chapter through that translation, and explain it afterwards. Though I think this had pedagogical benefits in general, specifically it is the psychological benefit that I’m primarily looking for.

When I’ve taken Greek and Hebrew foreign language classes especially, it always felt like one big exercise in paradigm, pattern, rule, and vocab memorization. Translation seemed to be (though it wasn’t) an afterthought. That, frankly, is not fun. It is the use of the language that really makes it interesting.

Starting a lesson off with translation, basing the discussion on it, and ending it with more translation, gives a completely different feel to the material. I think it makes it a lot more interesting. Even though my students are going to learn just about all the rules and paradigms that all the other first year students have to learn, they shouldn’t feel the bashing that most of them do. If I can maintain this, and they can keep their desire, I know we will succeed. Thanks for the idea, Maurice and Gilbert.

It’s about the cultivation of desire. If the student has that, he will rarely fail.


the_militant_pacifist 2005-09-26 12:15:00

Thanks - I’m enjoying your teaching philosophy. In an ancient Greek course the goal is to translate/read ancient texts - so success in translation (even if only "baby steps") is very encouraging!